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BumpTop, Pushing the Desktop Metaphor 213

Alranor writes "BumpTop is a new way of manipulating your GUI desktop with a graphics pen. Documents can be moved and piled (among other actions) as if they were real pieces of paper on a physical desktop. Simulated real physical interactions, such as documents pushing others out of the way as you move them around, are intended to increase the intuitiveness of the layout tool. Given the messiness of my desks at work and home, I'm not so sure this will work for me, but it's an interesting idea."
There's a neat video demo linked from the site (and a "hip-hop overview") if you want to see BumpTop in action; unfortunately for Linux users, BumpTop seems to be Windows-only. As reader idangazit describes it, this is "not just another "me-too" alternative UI; a lot of effort and polish has been put into the (pen-based) interaction, resulting in a very natural way of interacting with collections of information. Less sci-fi than Minority Report, but far more likely to hit a desktop near you in the next few years."

Update: 06/22 16:55 GMT by T : As zdzichu reader points out in the comments below, a visually similar project called lowfat, with an equally impressive video demo, is being developed — with enough sponsorship, lowfat will go open source.
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BumpTop, Pushing the Desktop Metaphor

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  • At a glance... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:31AM (#15581527)
    I would LOVE to use this system for dealing with photographs or other documents that are easily recognizeable at a glance, but beyond that I don't see any use for it other than 'fun'.

    I watched that video and the entire time I thought 'useless' until they showed the photos. There was also once a video of someone using multiple fingers to manipulate photographs, and I thought this would be useful as well. Neither of these systems can do much for me otherwise, though.

    As for being Windows-only... I think that shows how short-sited these people are. Linux users are quite a bit more likely to embrace change than Windows users. But, maybe that's to our advantage. We can now design and implement a MUCH better and more useable system that was intelligently designed (I couldn't resist) instead of just what someone thought was cool.

    If I had much free time, I would be working on it myself.
  • Star Trek 42 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:32AM (#15581529)
    ..."To boldly go where no metaphor has gone before..."

    Seriously, I want my computer to be *better* organized than my desk, not worse.

  • Simple Pleasures (Score:3, Insightful)

    by celardore ( 844933 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:35AM (#15581544)
    The age of email and similar IT based office communication lacks some of the real world 'feel' to it. Sometimes when an email annoys me, and I've dealt with the query I will print out said email, screw it up into a ball and hurl it into the bin while saying an expletive. Then delete the email from the system.

    It just wouldn't be the same if it was ALL technology. I like to touch things with my hands. I like getting a pile of documents in my hands and banging the sides so they all align. I like dumping a big pile of papers onto someone I don't like's desk. Ink stains on a white shirt, I could do without though.
  • Problems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ardor ( 673957 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:38AM (#15581554)
    It is very nice, but adapting real-world metaphors to such a degree makes very little sense. What most forget is that real-world metaphors are not optimal. For example, a pile of paper is not optimal because it is hard to search something in it. Using computers, I can access a text file nearly instantly, so why should I want a delay because of the metaphors? IMO the last really useful UI invention was the desktop search, because it satisfies most user's needs: a) fast access, b) easy search, c) instantly accessible.

    Of course, this is a research project, and some of its results may find their way into mainstream UIs. For example, I could think of a variation of the lasso menu. Draw a lasso using the mouse over a couple of files, then pull up, and a directory is created with all marked files in it.
  • Re:At a glance... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:43AM (#15581575)
    As for being Windows-only... I think that shows how short-sited these people are. Linux users are quite a bit more likely to embrace change than Windows users.

    You *are* kidding, right? In my experience (both personal and based on comments here) Linux users tend to be the least flexible, most opposed to change people I've ever met. That's not to say that they *all* are, of course, but read any article here about KDE, Gnome, xgl, new HCI ideas, etc and you'll see a whole slew of comments deriding it, with a lot of them expousing the innate superiority of the commenter's chosen preference (be it WindowMaker, the CLI, vi & make rather than an IDE, C rather than a higher level language, etc).

    Yes, you also get a lot of comments arguing against them, but if anything that merely implies that as a whole, Linux users are neither more nor less likely to embrace change.

    Hell, a lot of the die-hard Linux users *won't* embrace change - lots of them got their computing start on Unix boxes. Not all Linux users have migrated away from Windows in disgust; a lot (myself included) got our start on OSes other than Windows.
  • by jbarr ( 2233 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:55AM (#15581628) Homepage
    This is a fascinating concept, and it looks like it could be very useful, especially when using pen-based input. But in looking at other posts here, it seems that others are failing to see the bigger picture. Don't look at this as the end product, but look at as an add-on to curent GUI technology, or a component within a more sophistocated GUI. Coupled with other existing UI features, this could prove to be a powerful addition that would make pen-based interaction much more useful. No, it's not an answer in and of itself, but looks like a promising tool to enhance the pen-based GUI concept.

    The problem with these kinds of technology demos is that many people view them as an end product, and then write them off without considering how they might fit into a larger environment. Besides, isn't part of the usefulness of computers to be able to perform tasks virtually that could not otherwise be done in the physical world? If such function is provided in an intuitive way, then it makes computing more seamless and useful.
  • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:56AM (#15581632)
    > The whole point of having a computer is to free yourself from paper. So why would you take a step
    > back and try to digitally emulate a system that is antiquated? A computer offers endless
    > opportunities for organizing and storing data, I see this as a step back.

    Also, I don't actually have many "documents" on my "desk top". There are a few pieces of paper on my desk. I don't really much them around very much though.

  • by fuyu-no-neko ( 839858 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:00AM (#15581650)
    The whole point of having a computer is to free yourself from paper. So why would you take a step back and try to digitally emulate a system that is antiquated? A computer offers endless opportunities for organizing and storing data, I see this as a step back.

    Sometimes the UI has to take a step back because there are users out there who find it hard to take the step forward.
    I agree that it's a bad idea to limit your thinking to physical metaphors if you can reasonably think in a similar way to the way a computer works, but then this probably isn't the right desktop for us. If however there's someone new to computers who doesn't want to or is unable to relearn their dead wood system, I think the option of such a desktop would be great for them.
  • by broothal ( 186066 ) <christian@fabel.dk> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:01AM (#15581654) Homepage Journal
    Pretty nifty demo. It looked cool. But - I'm afraid time has passed for organising stuff like that. Remember the olden days when you placed all your documents and emails in folders. Now a days you just file everything away and use a search engine (desktop search in this example) to locate the document needed.
  • by topham ( 32406 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:02AM (#15581660) Homepage
    Bob by any other name is still Bob.
  • by dk-software-engineer ( 980441 ) * on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:18AM (#15581750)
    How many times have you filed something away so neatly that you can't find it hirearchically (is that even a word?) and have to resort to searching!?

    Countless times. On a computer AND on paper. On a computer, so what? It's easy to search when needed. On paper? Now that really sucks. That's one reason I hate paper. Print it, and it's lost.

    Oh, and that is true for "neatly organized" and "not organized at all" (AKA "huge pile"). Organizing just makes searching easier to avoid and easier to do.

    Unfortunately, "not using paper" often means "using PDF". Well, at least they are searchable, and I can have an open window next to it.
  • by Nurgled ( 63197 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:26AM (#15581814)

    I'm no technophobe, but I always have at least one paper document on my desk at work. Why? Firstly, because then I can free up my monitor for more important things like my text editor, and secondly because I can scrawl all over a paper document with my handy ballpoint pen much more easily than I can annotate an electronic document using my mouse and keyboard.

  • by Ruff_ilb ( 769396 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:30AM (#15581833) Homepage
    Why would you WANT documents pushing each other out of the way? That just means that, if I have something exactly where I want it, and I happen to want to move something in a direct path blocked by the other document, that means I either have to move AROUND the second document, or push it out of the way, and then go back and move it again. This is simply one of many such problems with a "phsycial" interface.

    And then of course, you have to deal with the extra processing costs inherent in such a desktop. It may look pretty, but behind it you have to have the CPU doing plenty of physics calculations, the GPU doing rendering, anti-alwhich could slow down a slow system with a cluttered desktop.

    My biggest gripe with this, however, is the fact that the icons all look the same. I don't want to have to memorize the placement of documents on my desktop (even though I often do so through simple habit, anyway), and these icons barely indictate file type, much less name, which I find to be a huge handicap. Without file names on the desktop, things get confusing rather quickly.

    A final gripe I have is that, if we must use a pen-type device, does that mean we're switching from a pen to a mouse whenever we want to use an application that's incompatable/inconvenient when using this software?

    The technology is interesting, but I doubt its practical use.
  • by daniil ( 775990 ) <evilbj8rn@hotmail.com> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:42AM (#15581929) Journal

    The whole point of having a computer is to free yourself from paper.

    No, it isn't. The whole point of having a computer is to make tedious and repetitive tasks easier. The "paperless office" hype was just a way to promote the use of computers ("cut costs by reducing the amount of paper used"). Or maybe it was just the standard answer given to business people by computer salesmen: "What can you do with it? Well, uh, I don't know, you'll have to spend a lot less money on paper?"

    So why would you take a step back and try to digitally emulate a system that is antiquated?

    Because this is what they're used to. First GUI-s used the file cabinet metaphor because this is what they were mostly used for -- filekeeping. The people using them were used to having huge file cabinets around. These days, computers are more and more being used for creating stuff, not only archiving it; the people doing this kind of work are used to having to work behind a desk full of stacks of paper. Eventually, this will change. Someone will come up with a more efficient way of interacting with information. But people first have to get used to using a computer (twenty years of personal computing might seem like a long time, but it isn't). A familiar environment will make it much easier for them to wrap their minds around this new thing.

    A computer offers endless opportunities for organizing and storing data, I see this as a step back.

    A computer can only do what you want it to do. If you don't know what a "new" interface should look like, then "emulating a system that is antiquated" is the first logical step in developing one.

  • by Kouroth ( 911586 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:16PM (#15583162)
    Most of the paper issue has to do with software and hardware. Things are still too expensive for someone to have a true virtual desktop, aka your desk IS the monitor. Once tech and software catches up desktops like this will probably take over. If it cost around 1k I think people and companies would be a lot more willing to try out something other than the standard monitor. It's all a matter of time. Software has to catch up with times as well. We need an easy way of moving documents from a pc to a cheep portable device and back again. At the moment we just don't have truly interactive useful approaches to things like this. Here is an example of a good idea. Pull up a document on your desktop (your desk is the monitor.) Grab a digital clip board and place it on the desk. Drag the document to the board. Go off and make changes as you like with your digital pen. Come back and put the board back onto the desk. Drag the document off the clip board and back onto your desk. Simple almost always wins and if someone could make something like that affordable I bet every office would want it. Software must bridge the gap and make things as easy for people to use as pen and paper.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 22, 2006 @01:32PM (#15583657)
    Often times I have found that people tend to dismiss an idea because it reminds them of something they once read or were told years ago. I myself have read numerous articles about how computer interfaces tend to mimic the real life "paper world" and that this has been a disasterous mistake for personal computing, and in many respects this is evident. Yet, it cannot be argued that the amount of information portrayed by this new concept is absolutely astounding. They have done an excellent job of implementing a new idea in a very fluid and dynamic way. I applaud them for having the guts to program something so enormously complex. Well done!
  • by Cid Highwind ( 9258 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @02:25PM (#15584069) Homepage
    (twenty years of personal computing might seem like a long time, but it isn't)

    It's more like 30 years for the GUI (Xerox PARC started developing their GUI for the Alto in 1972) and that *is* a long time.

    In the first 30 years of powered flight we went from the primitive Wright flyer (range about 1/2 mile, controlled by pulling wires) to the DC-3 (range about 1,000 miles, modern controls, some are still in use today). The first 30 years of automobiles went from carrieges with a steam engine in the back and a wooden horse head on the front to the model T Ford. The first 30 years of radio went from morse code tapped out on spark-gap transmitters to commercial music and voice broadcasts.

    The first 30 years of GUI development have seen the amazing technological leap from using a mouse to click on blocky black-and-white icons and widgets to using a mouse to click on blocky 16-color icons and widgets, to using a mouse to click on smooth 32-bit color icons and widgets. We're still using the same concepts of a desktop, folders and files, the same types of widgets, and the same input devices. The graphics have gotten prettier, but that's about it.

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